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Full Circle, and Then Some

Check this out:



That’s my first fiction writing professor, the novelist and all around great guy Steve Goodwin. More on him and an extended interview can be found HERE.

He was generous enough to provide the following blurb, which I’m honored to have on the back cover of my book: In some moments of profound experience, we see and feel in extraordinary ways. That is what happened to Sean Murphy after his mother’s death.  He has had the courage to look honestly at death, and the talent to express his love and grief in a way that will comfort and sustain his readers.

That should give you a sense of what a generous and erudite dude he is.

He was nice enough to ask me to visit his class last night and speak about my experience: before, during and after publication.

What happens in a classroom stays in the classroom (thank God), but I can say that it was a total pleasure to experience from the vantage point: standing, not seated, speaking, not listening. It’s a vantage point I was preparing myself for, way back in the early ’90s, as a grad student with one foot in a PhD program and the other retreating to a quiet place to write the “pretty good” American novel. Ultimately a number of factors convinced me that I should spend the next two decades working, refining, erasing, restarting and recreating the various visions –initially fiction, eventually non-fiction as well– that filled the sometimes inspired space between my ears.

It is both presumptuous and inaccurate to describe last night as full circle. It wasn’t, in the sense that I don’t believe I’ve “arrived” anywhere, if I ever will. Also, having a former professor ask you to talk to his class can’t approximate what it feels like to teach and interact with grad students year after year. On the other hand, it was something different, at once more and better, than simply “full circle”. To say being there, having my professor (a very well-respected writer, by the way) hold up my book and pass it around, was a surreal honor is obviously an understatement. But it also felt real and inevitable, the way a dream does when you wake up abruptly in the dark, not sure where or who you are.


That’s what the last couple of weeks have felt like, in some regards. Is this really happening? And the answer: of course it is. More, why shouldn’t it be happening? When you work toward a goal for so long, perhaps you can be forgiven if you don’t fall to the floor in a flood of tears and relief, in awe of what you’ve achieved. It’s just another day, another piece of the puzzle, another brick in the wall. And if the goal is, or was, just to get a manuscript from here to there, from PC to paperback, that’s one thing. If the goal is to reach an audience, start a conversation (or hundreds of them), and use that as a springboard to the next step, holding your book and getting props from a beloved professor is just part of the bigger picture. All of which is not to say I’m at once bewildered and humbled that I did what I’ve done, or that anyone outside my family and network of close friends might be remotely interested. But when I made the decision, back in those uncertain but unwavering years during the early-to-mid ’90s, to do whatever I could to make my life into art and vice-versa, I envisioned it as a mission for life.

In this regard that journey is not completed. It’s neither at the beginning nor, hopefully, near the end. I am where I tried to be; where I willed myself to be. I am, by any reasonable assessment, where I’m lucky enough to be. It’s not what I imagined it might be. It is at once more and better. And it’s still happening, which is exactly as it should be.


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Speak Your Mind


When I started Sean’s book, I read a section and said to myself, ‘I’m going to email Sean to tell him how amazing that sentence is.’ Then as I read a little further I thought, ‘No, I’m going to email Sean to tell him what an amazing depth of knowledge and perception he’s giving us.’ And then, yes, you got it, on the very next page he wrote something that made me think, ‘His Mom is looking down on Sean with unending love for what he just wrote. This is one amazing book!

– May 27, 2015

Donald R. Gallehr, Director Emeritus, Northern Virginia Writing Project